Kimberley care

An incredible career makes this nurse a treasured member of the community 

Source: APNA Primary Times Spring 2020 (Volume 20, Issue 2)

Generations of people in the Kimberley know and love nurse Joanne Moore.

She’s held them as babies, watched them grow into adults, and cared for their children. And, sadly, she’s attended too many funerals in the 40 years she’s been working at Derby, a small town with some big health issues.

Joanne operates out of the Derby Aboriginal Health Service (DAHS), where she is the senior manager for clinical operations. This long-standing APNA member has seen and done some extraordinary things in this far-flung corner of Western Australia.

Like the time she had to perform a pap smear by torchlight at Kupungarri clinic near the Barnett River. Or the day, up on the Mitchell Plateau, that she inserted a contraceptive implant in a young woman’s arm as she lay inside a bush shed made from tree boughs.

This can-do commitment has earnt plenty of trust and respect in the community. “It’s very rewarding,” says Joanne. “You get to know people and they put a lot of faith in you as a nurse to help them.”

Most recently she’s been delighted by the way her town has responded to the threat of COVID-19. The people of Derby were encouraged to get tested at the slightest hint of a sniffle and the Elders were “wrapped in cotton wool”, with home visits by DAHS staff plus telehealth provided for regular check-ups.

“Many of our Elders have comorbidities like diabetes and heart disease, making them very vulnerable to coronavirus,” explains Joanne. “If Covid got going up here it would wipe out generations of traditional knowledge.”


Health concerns are a fact of life in this part of the world, where some conditions are virtually unheard of down south. Joanne, for example, knows of children as young as five with symptoms of rheumatic heart disease caused by repeated group A streptococcus infections.

Nevertheless, every win fuels her optimism and she is full of praise for her colleagues at DAHS for their efforts. Joanne is particularly proud of her son Byron, an Aboriginal Health Worker Practitioner who Mum says has a talent for phlebotomy. Byron works at a DAHS remote clinic alongside another local nursing legend, Sister Mary-Jane Lynch.

Mary-Jane’s duties includes checking the state of the airstrip during the wet season so the mail plane and Royal Flying Doctor Service can land.

DAHS operates seven remote clinics to service the needs of small communities at places with evocative names like Jarlmadangah Burru and Imintji.

For Joanne, the variety of work in this region keeps her on her toes. “You’re certainly never bored,” she says. “As I tell the young health workers, you’ll learn something new every day.


“Nursing in the Kimberley teaches you to listen, be respectful and dials up the compassion. Despite the challenges, it’s a wonderful life.”


The former hospital nurse in Adelaide has come a long way literally and spiritually since packing up her bags all those years ago to find out more about Aboriginal health. She’s honoured to be called “daughter” by two of the local Elders and she thrives in the beautiful Kimberley environment.

Asked how she prefers to wind down, Joanne replies: “Fishing for barra, of course. I could sit out on the river bank all day, it’s so peaceful…it’s my happy place.”

The Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.

© Copyright 2024 Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association (APNA). All rights reserved. MRM by Bond Software.


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